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Spanish Education Reform

Spanish tinderbox: game, set and match

, by Berenice Darnault

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Once again, Spanish central state bridles Catalan self-governance. The Generalitat blames Wert’s Law on Spanish Education Reform for triggering yet another ideological battle. Backspace key pressed to 1978, again.

‘Wert’s Law clearly is a strategy designed to destroy our system of education. We must all unite to defend our model of success’, recently twitted Irene Rigau Oliver, the Catalan Minister of Education, in response to Spanish government’s centralizing education reform proposal. Spanish Minister of Education José Ignacio Wert sparked another nationalist backlash from the Generalitat, as he offered to provide five millions of euros to parents from Catalonia, who would wish to send their children to private schools, where Castilian would be taught as the main language. The generous jackpot will be directly snatched away from the Catalan Government’s own budget for education.

While prestigious tennis players thrash about on the famously renowned, close-cropped green Wimbledon Tennis court, another, yet equally fierce game hits the ground on the Iberian Peninsula. On the one end of the pitch, Spanish state-centric fervent advocates of the New Education Reform, better known as the LOMCE (Ley Orgánica de Mejora de la Calidad de la Educación). On the other end, just about every other ideology from the extreme right to the extreme left, highly sensitive to the topic, has vehemently reacted against the Reform. As in most European countries, the Spanish education sector is teetering down a pier overhanging unsafe waters. Spanish ‘NoNo’ Generation (NO study, NO work) faces hair-raising numbers. According to El País last Wednesday, (26th June 2013), youth unemployment affects 24,4% of 15-29 year old Spanish graduates, about 2 millions of the total population in Spain. Hence it is hardly surprising to witness street demonstrations bemoaning institutional and structural loopholes in the education system. A majority of Catalans accuse Wert of shaping an uneven society. By generating more political and linguistic clashes, the Spanish Minister dangerously brings back the dark memory of Franco’s fixation with an oppressive system of centralization.

In search of a Holy Grail: Spanish Sovereignty VS Regional Self-Governance

Yet the game is still on, and a series of events and reactions are bouncing back and forth from the Central State front to the Generalitat HQ. Placed at the vanguard of European regional promotion, the Council of Europe has constantly struggled to bring more democratic legitimacy and higher accountability to the regions of Europe. And progress has been made. In addition to its small embassies all over the EU, its 34 business centres, and its 5 political delegations throughout the world, Catalonia will soon have its own, independent representatives at the UNESCO. The Generalitat aims to enhance Catalan outward orientation and self-representation abroad. This target is partially reached through the diplomatic organization Diplocat (Consejo de Diplomacia Publica de Catalana), which has launched a series of conferences in order to raise the awareness about Catalan pro-independent movements abroad. In April 2013, El País has indeed reported that 66% of the Spanish population living in Catalonia would vote for Independence. Lectures run by Diplocat have kicked off in Paris at the beginning of June, and will soon head towards London, during the fall. Clearly, the Generalitat has crossed the baseline and has hit out of the bounds. However the Spanish government has tried to restrain Catalan international projection with its recent Ley de Acción Exterior y del Servicio Exterior del Estado (LAESEE).

European Democratic Vacuum and the Institutional ‘Art of Darkness’

Are the Generalitat’s ideals to counterbalance Spanish Government’s centralizing directives over-optimistic? The recent ejection of Left Wing MP Joan Tardà from the Spanish Parliament, for protesting in Catalan against the linguistic court ruling imposing the use of Castilian in Catalan schools on students’ request (11/04/2013), reflects the minefield of controversial bickering and institutional gridlock raised by linguistic policies.

Wert’s law was further criticized by European Institutions for the elimination of classes on citizenship. Learning the definitions and the implications of European citizenship amounts to understanding the quintessence of the European democratic project. Such anti-democratic oversight from the Spanish government further echoes the Spanish teaching community’s powerlessness in having a say about the Reform.

Since the Catalan pro-independence demonstration on 11 September 2012, President of Catalan Government Artur I Mas has requested to hold a Scottish-like referendum in 2014. Whilst no real fightback, but rather an astonishing laissez-faire was felt from Rajoy, the Spanish President’s discourse has couched in ambiguous terms since. Rajoy’s slip of the tongue – half conscious? –, when he called Catalonia a ‘plural country’ at the beginning of June, shows his awkward attempt at political correctness. Whether Basque secessionist groups would soon or later follow Catalan’s lead remains open to debate. Yet the ‘Domino effect’ may be indeed slowed down by deeper austerity and crisis, and by the need to unite with rather than to depart from the central state’s authority.

European politics are going down a blind alley. Failure to find a good GPS for leadership, some would reckon. Greek Prime Minister George Papandreou’s recent speech given in TED talks this month (June 2013), on ‘European democracy without borders’, highlights the need to ‘cooperate beyond borders, as now is the time to bring powers together’, further calling for a global revolution of democracy. Now is the need to further integrate the people, and to make what European project really stands for, a project of the people, more accessible and more transparent. What will be the next political ‘round’-about? Who will be serving the match point? In the light of the emerging secessionist waves from all over Europe, part of the grand slam remains yet to be played. Up to the citizens to decide.

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